At the rate the technological revolution is moving, even Sesame Street is out of date. The skeptics who keep arguing that renewable power can’t replace fossil fuels seem to get a new hit every day. It gets easier and easier to be Green.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reports that wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K., even without government subsidies.
This has come out just a week after Globe and Mail columnist Gwyn Morgan published a column with the Headline “Drop the `decarbonization’ pipe dream; natural gas is the ticket to reducing emissions.” Morgan goes on about how much more reliable science is than the opinions of the mass of environmentalists. ” As an engineer, …” he writes, ” here is a reality check. The fastest growing source of global greenhouse emissions is the burning of coal to produce electricity.” He is right, and his `solution’ – replacing coal with natural gas – is a sensible short term bridge. It is obviously not a long term solution, since at best, electricity from natural gas cuts CO2 emissions by about 35%. And in fact we release almost as much CO2 burning natural gas to heat our buildings. Natural gas is not so much a friend of the global survival movement as it is an enemy of our enemy.
Morgan thinks he is relying on “science” and possibly even the laws of thermodynamics, but he is actually fighting the laws of economics.
If wind is cheaper than coal, wind will replace coal, not natural gas. In fact there is good reason to think that the exponential growth of wind power will accelerate.
There is a more dramatic story coming to light. The coal-based system in Europe is stating to collapse. Wind power is not just cheaper, but it also undermines the economics of coal.
Once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. As the Bloomberg article points out, “If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.”
As more renewables are installed, coal and natural gas plants are used less. As coal and gas are used less, the cost of using them to generate electricity goes up. As the cost of coal and gas power rises, more renewables will be installed. A vicious cycle for the fossil fuel. The whale oil industry collapsed the same way when kerosene entered the market – the distribution system actually fell apart well before the supply of whale oil disappeared once there was slightly cheaper competition.
So what will we do with Kermit’s song? Every day it seems to get harder for skeptics like the Globe’s Gwen Morgan. Maybe “Its TOO easy being Green” will give Gwyn the the touch of sadness that made the original so poignant.
So here is a question – should I change the title to “It ain’t easy being GWYN”?